Greek leaders call for hazing details after GW’s biggest transparency move

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

Greek leaders say the University's sanctions website, which lists five chapters for hazing, does not give enough detail about each violation.

This is an interactive timeline of the past year in reported hazing incidents and hazing prevention efforts on campus. View the full timeline here.

The top student leaders in Greek life say the University’s biggest step toward transparency in sanctioning student organizations doesn’t go far enough to shine a light on misconduct within their community.

Officials say the website, which lists five Greek chapters charged with hazing, is a tool that can alert potential new members about a group’s past conduct. The string of Greek chapters is the largest to be publicly sanctioned for hazing in recent years. But Greek life members say the website doesn’t give students the full picture of what’s happening in chapters and may make violations look worse than they are.

Kasey Packer, president of the Panhellenic Association, and Interfraternity Council President Peyton Zere said the site should explain the circumstances surrounding each violation. Hazing activity falls on a spectrum of severity, which should be explained on the website, Packer said.

“What has been the most frustrating to chapters on campus is that none of those [hazing incidents] are defined in the sanction list on the website. For recruitment, that is very scary for chapters because they don’t know how potential members will look at hazing allegations,” Packer said.

While the list is meant to include any student group that GW has sanctioned, only Greek-letter organizations have appeared on the list so far.

GW already took steps to make the list more detailed, said Center for Student Engagement Director Tim Miller. When the University was creating the list, Greek leaders requested information such as when a chapter was charged with serving alcohol to minors instead of only citing an alcohol violation.

The string of hazing violations came during a year that included a semester-long hazing prevention effort led by the University and Greek leaders. GW defines hazing as any action that produces “mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule.”

Sigma Delta Tau lost its on-campus townhouse last spring for hazing, and Alpha Epsilon Pi was kicked off campus for 17 counts of drug, alcohol and hazing violations. In April, Kappa Alpha was added to the list for a hazing violation. The University has historically refused to discuss any details about hazing cases.

Miller said hazing will be discussed at new member orientations this fall, but he has no plans to “plaster [the list] around campus.” He said this summer he would bring up the list at freshmen orientation events, and he hopes the list will eventually serve as a deterrent to more misconduct.

“I think it will start to creep into their brain that ‘Hey, we want to have this event’ and people will be like ‘If we get caught, [this] will happen,’” Miller said. “I think the challenge in the past was if you got caught something might happen. Now you know if you get caught, this is absolutely, definitely happening.”

A list of sanctions without details about incidents is “a half-step to transparency,” said Frank Lomonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center who focuses on transparency issues.

“If they’re going to tell you that an incident occurred they really owe it to [you] to give some idea of the severity,” Lomonte said. “Hazing could be whacking your butt with a paddle or holding your head under water until you drown, and those are not the same thing. We ought to know whether the school is punishing really dangerous life-threatening issues with a slap on a wrist.”

Ten of the 17 listed Greek-letter organizations on the list are sanctioned for misconduct like hosting unregistered parties or serving alcohol to minors. Punishments for those incidents range from a written warning from the University to restrictions on the number of parties a chapter is allowed to host.

Matt Zahn, president of Beta Theta Pi, said though the University “has a lot of hesitations when it comes to releasing too much information,” more context would be helpful to students.

“I think GW has simply formalized an informal word-of-mouth process that already existed. I think it’s made lives easier though, when it comes to active investigations and false rumors that get stirred up from time to time,” Zahn said.

Sigma Chi president Eric Estroff said the list, which he called “a Word document” is hard to find on the CSE website. He said he’ll likely ask freshmen if they’re familiar with the list at rush events this fall.

“Will it affect whether or not organizations on campus decide to haze? I don’t know,” Estroff said.

Last fall, Student Association leaders called on administrators to distribute a hazing survey to gauge the campus climate around hazing. In November, Miller questioned whether students would truthfully answer the questions, and said he didn’t see a “benefit” in sharing the findings with all students.

Miller said in an interview last week that he was not sure if the survey would roll out this year, though he plans to continue talking with SA leaders.

CSE already has some details about hazing on GW’s campus from responses to an American College Health Association survey, said Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski. He said the more discussions about hazing on campus, the more likely students will report it.

“The more we talk about it, the more comfortable people feel about reporting it, the [higher the] likelihood is we’ll be able to eradicate things like that. That’s because we’re talking about it and we’re coming up with solutions to fix it as opposed to saying ‘I don’t know about hazing at GW,’” Konwerski said.

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